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Butler hoping big game puts slump behind him

Butler hoping big game puts slump behind him

ANAHEIM -- It was during Spring Training this year that Royals manager Ned Yost, extolling Billy Butler's virtues, called him "the least streakiest player I've ever seen in my life."

Elaborating, Yost said that Butler merely went from good to great and back to good again. None of that bad streak business known as a slump.

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Fast forward to Monday afternoon as the Royals were preparing to open a series against the Angels. Butler, after going 1-for-12 as the Royals were swept by the Yankees, was in a 4-for-35, .114 batting average, funk.

"I don't know if you could consider it streaky when it's just been one way," Butler said, extending his hand downward.

He was smiling, at least on the outside, as he gestured. But, as everyone knows, hitting a baseball is a very serious matter for Butler.

"Streaky involves up and down. It's just been all down," he continued. "So I'm hoping it's going to be a streaky player, but in one streak. One way down and then one that stays all the way up."

There have been good Butler moments, of course. On April 7 at Philadelphia he had a seven-RBI game that included a grand slam. On May 5, his two-out, two-run double tied the White Sox in the ninth inning and the Royals won in 10. On April 21 at Boston, his eighth-inning homer tied the score and the Royals won in 10.

But, overall, he brought a .228 average to California and was scuffling.

"I'm continuing to work on what's gotten me to this point. We've only played a small amount of games and we've got a long way to go. I've driven in [20] runs, but I could've driven in a lot more. That's the key," Butler said. "And we'd been playing good and we've been so close in some games and that one hit here or there that I could've had for us could've helped us out more. And that's what I'm trying to get to."

Yost, chatting with reporters before Monday night's game, expressed confidence that Butler would start doing just that.

"He's just not swinging well right now, but Billy is a light switch," Yost said. "Flick it and he could be on. It's just a matter of time."

Well, well. The switch got flipped in the Royals' 11-4 win over the Angels.

First inning, Butler banged the right-center wall with an RBI double. Third inning, he ripped a single up the middle for two more runs. Fifth inning, he singled to left to start a three-run outburst. Sixth inning, Butler crashed a shot against the right-field wall for a two-run double. Eighth inning, he grounded a single to left.

Two doubles, three singles, five RBIs. Off three different pitchers, too.

Maybe Jack Maloof, the Royals' hitting coach, helped Butler discover something in their practice session early Monday afternoon.

"We're trying to slow him down, getting to being the Billy Butler he was in the past," Maloof said afterward. "Which, obviously, is using the gaps for line-drive doubles, not trying to do too much at the plate, not trying to hit the ball too far."

Maloof suggested that Butler was trying to pull the ball too often and was becoming impatient, getting out of his swing. An indication of his impatience: In his first 21 games this year, Butler drew 18 walks. In his next nine games, he'd walked just twice.

Of course, no one was concerned about walks on Monday night. Butler was doing just fine swinging away.

"I knew I'd been getting closer, I'd been doing a lot of early work on the field. I'm still doing early work tomorrow on the field because it's just one game and I feel like I'm getting better," Butler said after Monday's game. "Right now the more swings I take before the game, the better I feel in the game. I need to get my rhythm and my tempo down. It worked today so I'm going to do it again."

His five hits raised his average to .261 and his five RBIs give him 25 on the season, three behind Alex Gordon's team-high 28.

"It's just one game. I've got to come out and do it consistently," Butler said. "It's gets you going. Hopefully, I'm on that upward streak now."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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